Costello shows bite after surgery
By Spencer Patterson
LAS VEGAS SUN
# When: Friday.
# Where: The Joint at the Hard Rock Hotel.
# Rating (out of 5 stars): ****
Novocaine couldn't dull Elvis Costello's impact Friday night.
Hours after undergoing unplanned oral surgery, the British rock legend kept his date at The Joint at the Hard Rock Hotel with his three-piece band, the Imposters.
"As you can see, I've got a little bit of a dental emergency, and my face is all swollen up," Costello said upon arriving onstage promptly at 9 p.m., patting the left side of his jaw. "So I hope I'll be able to sing for you tonight."
Those words generated a worried murmur in the crowd of 1,350, but that concern soon proved needless. Costello's voice sounded as strong as ever as the 50-year-old headliner blazed through a 90-minute set heavy with hits and fan favorites.
Costello opened with a series of five classics, including 1978 single "Radio Radio," a rousing rendition of "Uncomplicated" from 1986's "Blood & Chocolate" and "Party Girl," a surprise cut from 1979's "Armed Forces."
After pausing briefly to quip, "Excuse me if I can't smile too much," Costello sank into some material from his latest album, last year's excellent "The Delivery Man."
Where new tunes from many veteran artists come off as space fillers, Costello's recent work actually highlighted a concert filled with memorable moments.
Poppy single "Monkey to Man" got the crowd singing along. The bluesy "Needle Time" featured keyboardist Steve Nieve, bassist Davey Faragher and drummer Pete Thomas expertly shifting tempos. And loping ballad "Country Darkness" demonstrated the richness of Costello's vocal delivery, numb jaw and all.
The album's anthemic title track also hit home, particularly its haunting refrain, "In a certain light, he looked like Elvis / In a certain way, he seemed like Jesus."
Costello made another allusion to his Elvis namesake later in the set, seguing from his beloved ballad "Alison" into a short, sleepy excerpt from "Suspicious Minds."
If his experience at the dentist made him drowsy, Costello didn't show it. Dressed in a crisp, black suit, he stood confidently at the microphone, eyes dancing behind rose-colored glasses as he sang.
The native of Liverpool, England, also produced several captivating guitar solos, most notably a muted, low-toned piece during "Clubland."
The animated Costello even delivered a revved-up take on Nick Lowe's "Heart of the City," easily the most unexpected song of the night.
The crowd sang the words to "Watching the Detectives" and "Alison," rose for roller-rink staple "Pump It Up" and cheered through "(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding."
Most of the night, though, the room was remarkably sedate, with fans keeping to their seats as the quartet rocked furiously before them.
Perhaps, a more consistently energetic response could have prevented Costello from cutting his set short. Most shows on his West Coast swing have featured 28-35 songs; he played 23 on Friday.
At the very least, a more appreciative crowd might have coaxed the band back to the stage for at least one encore. Last time at the Joint, in July 2003, Costello and his mates returned to the stage three times.
Ultimately, though, Costello should be commended for even showing up. Few artists wouldn't have canceled under such circumstances, and fewer still would have produced such glorious results.